American Quarterly

American Quarterly
Volume 58, Number 2, June 2006



    Zuber, Devin.
  • Flânerie at Ground Zero: Aesthetic Countermemories in Lower Manhattan
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    Subject Headings:
    • World Trade Center Site (New York, N.Y.)
    • September 11 Terrorist Attacks, 2001 -- Influence.
    • Public art -- New York (State) -- New York.
    • Memory -- Social aspects -- United States.
    • Art and society -- New York (State) -- New York.
      Although five years have passed since Manhattan's Twin Towers were destroyed, rebuilding projects atop the ruins remain mired in an ideological tug-of-war that offers an exemplary window into how memorial aesthetics and public art become constituted into national mythologies. Ground Zero has been commodified into t-shirts, patriotic coffee mugs with the slogan "Never Forgive, Never Forget," and sundry tourist bric-a-brac; director Oliver Stone's current thriller in the making, the eponymous Ground Zero, promises to further cloud the space with the simulacra of Hollywood spectacle. Amongst all this media alchemy, both 9/11's pretext (the mounting factors that led to such terrorism) and post-text (the consequence of casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan) have been virtually dissolved. This essay argues for a radical intervention into these visual politics by reading Ground Zero through the work of Walter Benjamin. Benjamin remains one of most perceptive writers on the intersection between aesthetics and the flow of signs in capitalist society; his unfinished masterpiece, the Arcades Project (Das Passagen-Werk), articulates an especially useful mode of "dialectical seeing" which provides a framework for critiquing Ground Zero's nationalist inscriptions.

      This essay will follow the mode of Benjamin's flâneur - a type of urban, meandering visionary where seeing is an exercise in archeology, a peeling off the surfaces of things – to explore artworks that lie on the periphery of Ground Zero. These various public sculptures and art projects, largely made before 2001, speak critically to America's own complicity in the events of Sept. 11th while suggesting several effective memorial possibilities that have been lost in subsequent hubris. The burgeoning literature on Ground Zero memorialization has unjustly neglected these adjacent artworks, and to bring their forgotten aesthetics into the overt politics at Ground Zero's center further ignites what Benjamin called a "profane illumination," a disjunctive break that shatters religious and political continuums. More than ever, Ground Zero stands with an untouchable halo of the sacred. Powerful lobbying groups for families of 9/11 victims have successfully demanded that the foundational footprints of the towers be kept open "from bedrock to infinity" in the Reflecting Absence memorial at the site; such lobbies have also effectively expelled two intended cultural centers at Ground Zero for being "outrageously un-American" and "sacrilegious." As will be demonstrated, these other artworks can interrupt this monocular focus by forcing our gaze to thread the ruins with other, profane representations - from the unsettling torture photographs that have emerged out of Abu Ghraib prison to the ongoing absence of Iraqi dead in the American press – and thereby undo the reconstitution of memorial aesthetics into the logic of war.

    O'Hara, John Fitzgerald.
  • Kent State/May 4 and Postwar Memory
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    Subject Headings:
    • Kent State Shootings, Kent, Ohio, 1970.
    • Monuments -- Ohio -- Kent.
    • Public art -- Ohio -- Kent.
    • Memory -- Social aspects -- United States.
    • Art and society -- Ohio -- Kent.
      In negotiating the historical meanings May 4, 1970, Kent State University has produced an official memorial site on campus that has evolved in context with postwar responses to the Vietnam conflict. Over three decades, many monuments and memorials were produced, permitted, rejected or neglected according to changing historical, political and institutional imperatives. Official monuments and memorials traditionally stood in tension with unofficial and unrecognized objects of memory. Contemporary efforts to come to terms with history at Kent State have afforded official status to many previously unrecognized art works and artifacts. Thus, the current memorial field not only commemorates May 4, but also embodies a history of contest and recovery after the event and war. This article surveys a number of May 4 memorial objects, including Bruno Ast's official monument, Donald Drumm's Solar Totem, George Segal's Abraham and Isaac, and Robert Smithson's Partially Buried Woodshed, while it examines the persistence of forgetting in contemporary acts of commemoration.
    Espiritu, Yen Le, 1963-
  • The "We-Win-Even-When-We-Lose" Syndrome: U.S. Press Coverage of the Twenty-Fifth Anniversary of the "Fall of Saigon"
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    Subject Headings:
    • Vietnam War, 1961-1975 -- Anniversaries, etc.
    • Vietnam War, 1961-1975 -- Veterans -- Press coverage -- United States.
    • Vietnam War, 1961-1975 -- Refugees -- Press coverage -- United States.
    • Vietnam War, 1961-1975 -- Mass media and the war.
    • Nationalism in the press -- United States.
      Through analyses of U.S. press coverage of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Fall of Saigon, this article examines how U.S. popular culture has dealt with the "difficult memory" of the Vietnam War, a war that left the United States as neither victor nor liberator. As a morally controversial and unsuccessful war, the Vietnam War appears to offer an antidote to the prominent "rescue and liberation" narratives of World War II. However, instead of using the occasion of the twenty-fifth anniversary to critically analyze and assess the reasons for and ongoing consequences of the war, U.S. print media have opted to present an ahistorical account of America(ns) rescuing and caring for Vietnam's "runaways" that erases the role that U.S. interventionist foreign policy and war played in inducing this forced migration in the first place. Many American studies scholars have detailed how the recuperation of the Vietnam veterans has been central to the ongoing renovation of U.S. mythic innocence, this article extends this discussion by showing how popular narratives of Vietnamese refugees have also been deployed to rescue the Vietnam War for Americans. Although routinely forgotten in most U.S. public discussions and commemorations of the Vietnam War, on the twenty-fifth anniversary of the fall of Saigon, Vietnamese refugees became the featured evidence of the appropriateness and even necessity of U.S. world hegemony. The refugees—constructed as successful and anti-communist—recuperated the veterans' and thus U.S. failure of masculinity and re-made the case for U.S. war in Viet Nam: that the war, no matter the costs, was ultimately necessary, moral, and successful. The article concludes that it is this "we-win-even-when-we-lose" syndrome that has energized and emboldened the perpetuation of U.S. militarism around the world in the post-Cold War era.
    Cowie, Jefferson R.
    Boehm, Lauren.
  • Dead Man's Town: "Born in the U.S.A.," Social History, and Working-Class Identity
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    Subject Headings:
    • Springsteen, Bruce. Born in the U.S.A. [sound recording]
    • Rock music -- Political aspects -- United States.
    • Rock music -- Social aspects -- United States.
    • Working class -- United States.
      This essay analyzes Bruce Springsteen's 1984 hit song "Born in the U.S.A." as a history and commentary on working-class identity. The article discusses the song's narrative elements and its oppositional chorus as they each relate to the social, economic, political, and cultural history of post-Vietnam America. Beginning with an overview of white, male working-class political identity since the 1930s, the essay then turns to the era covered by the song itself—the 1970s and early 1980s. Three main themes are then explored through an intertextual analysis. First is the unique musical structure of song—the anthemic chorus contrasted with the verses' desperate narrative. The tension between the two is foundational for any understanding of the song's poetics. Next is the Vietnam/hometown metonymy, in which it is argued that the Vietnam War serves as a collection of symbols relating not simply to the war itself but to the social and economic siege of American blue-collar communities. Finally, the essay turns directly to the song's theme of economic devastation, which uproots the material basis of working-class identity only to replant it in the acidic soil of nationalism.

      A close reading of these themes—and the cultural and political forces that gave rise to them—points toward an understanding of both working-class identity and community under siege in what can best be understood as a guerrilla war at home and abroad. Springsteen reveals blue-collar America separated from an economic identity, sheltered only by the empty shell of a failed social patriotism, contained in a hometown under attack, and fighting in little but isolation and silence. The economic foundations of the industrial working class were disappearing, the politics that once offered some protection had all but disappeared, and what remained was a deafening but hollow national pride—"Born in the USA." The essay concludes with a brief exploration of the ways in which the themes of the song reverberate well into twenty-first century.

    Kim, Thomas W.
  • Being Modern: The Circulation of Oriental Objects
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    Subject Headings:
    • Civilization, Modern -- 20th century.
    • United States -- Civilization -- Asian influences.
    • Art, Asian -- Appreciation -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
    • Consumption (Economics) -- Social aspects -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
    • DeMille, Cecil B. (Cecil Blount), 1881-1959. Cheat [film]
      This essay argues that a central force that mediates the relation of modern consumption to individuals is the figuration of the Far East Orient in America. The paper suggests how the Orient (as object and concept) acts both as an agent for and a palliative against the contradictions activated by modern consumption. The first part of the essay looks into the agendas of collectors, taste professionals, and travel writers such as William Griffis, Edward Morse, Clarence Cook, and Robert Blum that brought the Far East closer to the American consumer. Both the pedagogical and performative aspects of the Oriental object reveal how the Orient comes to be almost exclusively associated with things, things that can gather the problematics of the Orient both inside and outside America and things that can showcase the modernist dialectic of distance and proximity within the registers of history and geography. The traffic in aesthetic Oriental objects—and their absorption into the very homes of middle-class consumers—occasions an intimacy with the other, and the essay will go on to show how this process creates destabilizations in the time and space of the self and its attendant culture even as it ostensibly promises self-aggrandizement.

      The essay also captures the infiltration of the Orient-as-object into the disciplinary procedures of ethnography, and delineates how an aesthetic discourse of beauty epitomizes the ahistorical, apolitical engagements with the Far East that permeated both scholarly texts and mass media. The paper suggests that an aesthetic ethnography (exemplified by the travel narratives of Lafcadio Hearn and Eliza Ruhamah Scidmore) has the power to mediate the commensurability of the modern and the Oriental. Finally, the essay investigates a few exemplary popular and literary texts for their seminal figurations of the Orient(al) within the nexus of modernity and consumption. Readings of short stories by Beatrice Grimshaw and Frank Norris dramatize the intimate and reciprocal relation between the Orient and the modern. The texts demonstrate how fungible the Orient-as-concept can be within modern narratives of cultural translation and purification, the moral crisis of being possessed by objects, and the unsettling consciousness of experiencing the "past" and the "present" as coeval in everyday life. The paper also examines Cecil B. DeMille's The Cheat to capture the overdetermination of the American Orient in the film and how deftly the narrative stabilizes the dangers of overconsumption and the fears of a publicly traded material world. Consumption, capitalism, and questions of modernity are crystallized in the figure of the modern Oriental.

    Delgadillo, Theresa.
  • Singing "Angelitos Negros": African Diaspora Meets Mestizaje in the Americas
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    Subject Headings:
    • Blanco, Andrés Eloy, 1898-1955. Píntame angelitos negros.
    • Rodríguez, Joselito, dir. Angelitos negros [film]
    • Kitt, Eartha. Angelitos negros [sound recording]
    • Flack, Roberta. Angelitos negros [sound recording]
    • Race relations in literature.
    • Race relations in motion pictures.
    • Music and race.
    • Mestizaje.
      This essay examines interpretations of the ballad "Angelitos Negros" by Pedro Infante, Eartha Kitt and Roberta Flack as well as the Mexican film of the same title. Based on the Venezuelan poem "Píntame angelitos negros" by Andrés Eloy Blanco, "Angelitos Negros" protests racial discrimination and demands recognition of a multiracial population. In tracing the circulation of this ballad throughout the hemisphere, its performance by these varied artists, and the contexts for these performances this essay examines the significance of multidirectional cultural flows in the hemisphere; explores the Americas as historical, geographic, linguistic, and political site of cultural production; and sheds light on the role of literature, film, and music in mediating race on the American continent. This examination of the inter-American cultural and political movements of racially marked subjects in Venezuela, Mexico, and the United States identifies significant interplay between the national/local and the inter-American/global in discursive and structural constructions of race. Specifically focused on the discourses, material realities, and practices of mestizaje and diaspora in the Americas as these are enacted in each version of "Angelitos Negros," this essay finds that although we customarily regard mestizaje and diaspora in the Americas as discrete formations, and generally consider each in relation to dominant racial formation, comparative analysis of these in relation to each other locates borrowings, convergences, and unexplored points of contact (and tension) between diasporic and mestizo practices and concepts.
    Rubinstein, Rachel.
  • Going Native, Becoming Modern: American Indians, Walt Whitman, and the Yiddish Poet
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    Subject Headings:
    • Di Yunge (Group of writers)
    • Shrifṭen (Bronx, New York, N.Y.)
    • Yiddish literature -- United States -- History and criticism.
    • Literature -- Translations into Yiddish -- History and criticism.
    • Modernism (Literature) -- United States.
      Throughout the early part of the twentieth century, American modernists demonstrated their commitment to a national artistic culture through their constructed sense of "Indiannness." Just as European modernists turned to so-called primitive art for inspiration, American moderns turned to the Indian, whose poetry came to be read as both authentically "American" and naturally modernist, resembling the newest and most radical experiments in free verse. This turn to the native was additionally conditioned by anxieties caused by the massive influx of immigrants from Eastern and Southern Europe at the turn of the century. Thus, American modernism, in its search for an authentically native form of expression, came increasingly to rely on troubling racial and cultural typologies: if the Indian was natural, authentic, artistic, and "American," then the Jew was commercial, sterile, intellectual, and alien.

      This essay recovers the response of Jewish immigrant writers to this opposition through an examination of Shriftn, a Yiddish literary journal published in New York from 1912-1926. Several Shriftn issues featured translations, and later imitations, of Walt Whitman and of Native American song, both considered to be exemplarily modern and "American." The Yiddish translators had found their sources in the pages of Harriet Monroe's modernist journal Poetry, A Magazine of Verse, which was divided between Monroe's explicit desire to cultivate a "strongly localized indigenous art," and foreign correspondent Ezra Pound's cosmopolitan and international offerings, both of which resolutely excluded the Jewish, much less Yiddish poet. The editors and writers of Shriftn carried on a one-sided dialogue with Poetry through translation, imitation, and subtle critique, thus both entering into and complicating Poetry's ongoing, unresolved negotiation concerning native identity, language, and literature. I thus re-cast Yiddish literary "redface" as not so much an effort to fix an unstable racial identity as white and American, but rather as an intervention into the elitism and racism of Euro-American modernist literary practices.


    Faherty, Duncan.
  • "It Happened Here": Slavery on the Hudson
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    Subject Headings:
    • New-York Historical Society. Slavery in New York [exhibition]
    • Rabinowitz, Richard, cur.
    • Berlin, Ira, 1941-, ed. Slavery in New York.
    • Harris, Leslie M. (Leslie Maria), 1965-, ed.
    • African Americans -- New York (State) -- New York -- History.
    • Slavery -- New York (State) -- New York -- History.
    Wray, Matt, 1964-
  • A Blast from the Past: Preserving and Interpreting the Atomic Age
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    Subject Headings:
    • Atomic Testing Museum.
    • Nevada Test Site Oral History Project.
    • Nevada Testing Archive.

Book Reviews

    Brown, Bill, 1958-
  • The Public Life of Painting
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    Subject Headings:
    • Biel, Steven, 1960- American Gothic: a life of America's most famous painting.
    • Wood, Grant, 1891-1942. American Gothic.
    Banet-Weiser, Sarah, 1966-
  • The Business of Representing
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    Subject Headings:
    • Sender, Katherine. Business, not politics: the making of the gay market.
    • Rand, Erica, 1958- Ellis Island snow globe.
    • Gay consumers -- United States.
    • Ellis Island Immigration Station (N.Y. and N.J.)
    Kroes, Rob.
  • Americanization and Anti-Americanism
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    Subject Headings:
    • De Grazia, Victoria. Irresistible empire: America's advance through twentieth-century Europe.
    • Roger, Philippe, 1949- American enemy: a story of French anti-Americanism.
    • Bowman, Sharon, tr.
    • Ross, Andrew, 1956-, ed. Anti-Americanism.
    • Ross, Kristin, ed.
    • Todd, Emmanuel, 1951- Après l'empire: essai sur la décomposition du système américain.
    • Consumer behavior -- Europe -- History -- 20th century.
    • United States -- Relations -- France.
    Farrell, Amy Erdman.
  • The Narrowing of American Bodies: Christian Fitness Culture and the Politics of Body Size Reduction
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    Subject Headings:
    • Griffith, R. Marie (Ruth Marie), 1967- Born again bodies: flesh and spirit in American Christianity.
    • Body, Human -- Religious aspects -- Christianity -- History of doctrines.
    Clark, Lynn Schofield.
  • Religion, American Style: Critical Cultural Analyses of Religion, Media, and Popular Culture
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    Subject Headings:
    • McCloud, Sean. Making the American religious fringe: exotics, subversives, and journalists, 1955-1993.
    • Hendershot, Heather. Shaking the world for Jesus: media and conservative evangelical culture.
    • Chidester, David. Authentic fakes: religion and American popular culture.
    • Mass media in religion -- United States -- History.
    • Mass media -- Religious aspects -- Christianity.
    Martínez, Anne M.
  • Holy Wars at Home: Religion and Activism in U.S. Social Movements
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    Subject Headings:
    • Chappell, David L. Stone of hope: prophetic religion and the death of Jim Crow.
    • De La Torre, Miguel A. Lucha for Cuba: religion and politics on the streets of Miami.
    • Medina, Lara, 1953- Hermanas: Chicana/Latina religious-political activism in the U.S. Catholic Church.
    • African Americans -- Civil rights -- History -- 20th century.
    • Cuban Americans -- Florida -- Miami -- Politics and government.
    Silverman, Jonathan.
  • "The Fool in the Mirror"
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    Subject Headings:
    • Fox, Aaron A., 1964- Real country: music and language in working-class culture.
    • Country music -- Texas -- Lockhart -- History and criticism.


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